Cessna Denali, Textron's new turboprop to feature a 3D printed propeller engine by GE

Jul 26, 2016 | By Alec

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to board a small plane to explore the vast emptiness of Canada’s forests, for instance, chances are you were doing so in a Cessna propeller aircraft. In many ways, Cessna (which is part of US conglomerate Textron) has even become synonymous with those kinds of small tourist aircraft – though they also produce a wide range of other airplanes, including private jets. And for that high-end portion of their clientele, Textron just unveiled a brand new business aircraft called the Cessna Denali, which will feature a powerful 3D printed propeller engine that is strong enough to fly from Miami to New York.

This brand-new aircraft is remarkable for a number of reasons, of which its target audience is one. While private jets are typically the forte of billionaires, Textron is now aiming at the group just below them with the Cessna Denali. Costing ‘just’ $4.8 million, it’s a business aircraft featuring many of the comforts you can find on a private jet, but then at an entry level price. It’s also a bit bigger than a typical Cessna aircraft, featuring a cabin that seats up to eight people.

But we here at 3ders.org are more interested in the mechanics that power this entry-level private aircraft, which features an engine with multiple 3D printed parts developed by GE Aviation and Textron Aviation. GE, of course, is no stranger to 3D printed engines – back in April, they delivered the first two highly efficient LEAP-1A engines featuring 3D printed fuel nozzles to Airbus.

Specifically, GE turned to 3D printing to make the whole design process a lot more efficient. Hundreds of small individual components have therefore been replaced with a handful of 3D printed titanium and steel components with complex geometries. Together with a host of other innovations, this makes the whole engine far more efficient than competing models.

The engine is, in fact, a turboprop model that has been based on jet engine technology. As a result, the pressure and temperature inside the compressor and the turbine is increased, creating a lot more power. “As a result, the engine will burn up to 20 percent less fuel and achieve 10 percent more power than other engines in the same class,” its engineers said. Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, even admitted that they are expecting this innovative model to bring in $40 billion in revenue within 25 years.

The roots of the new engine go back to 2008, when GE Aviation purchased the small Czech turboprop builder Walter Aircraft Engines. This brought propellers back on the GE agenda, which they hadn’t made in decades. Over the next seven years, the Czech/American team worked on a new design that could produce as much as 1,650 shaft horsepower – bring propellers into a whole new market segment.

That powerful engine is now being brought to the Cessna Denali, though it first completed more than 20 million hours of flight time on 30 different types of aircraft. By ‘cross-pollinating’ their results with GE’s far more experienced jet engine department, a very potent engine was born. Among others, the engine also features variable stator vanes and gas turbines used on jet engines, while the air-cooled turbine blades and integrated propulsion control makes the whole system easy to pilot. Development lead Brad Mottier even believes that these breakthroughs can extend time between engine overhauls by more than 30 percent.

While propeller aircraft can seem to be outdated, this 3D printed engine by GE shows that they will doubtlessly stay around for years to come. The Cessna Denali’s maiden voyage, complete with 3D printed engine, has been scheduled for 2018, with testing expected to take a whole year.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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